This, Not That

After Epiphany: The Great Invitation Worship Series Overview

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Jesus continues to offer concrete examples of what life in God’s kingdom does, and doesn’t, look like.

Reading Notes

NRSV texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
From Moses' final sermon: There are two ways—life and prosperity or death and endless troubles. The way of life requires us to walk in God's ways and not bow down to or serve any other gods.

Psalm 119:1-8 (UMH 840-841)
Response 2 better fits the theme of the OT/Gospel stream today. Sing with Tone 1 in B-flat major (UMH 737).

1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Despite their spiritual riches, Christians in Corinth were still living by the flesh as cliques forming around preferred leaders. To live by the Spirit is to recognize they are God's field, God's building.

Matthew 5:21-37
"You have heard it said… but I tell you." Part I of two weeks of Rules of Relationships. This week: Overcoming sin.

Calendar Notes

The Great Invitation: “This, Not That"

Last week, we were introduced to the righteousness that fulfills the law and prophets. On this sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, we start to see exactly what that entails, as Jesus shows us the contrast between how the law and prophets are normally interpreted on a variety of issues related to interpersonal relationships and then gives us his own.

Black History Month continues.

Today is also the recommended day to observe Scouting Ministries Sunday, as the later date falls during Lent. This is not a day to “hand over” to the scouts for planning, nor to scouting themes. But if you have scouts in your congregation, do consider enlisting (and training!) them as ushers, acolytes, and at least one of the Scripture readers for today’s service, and be sure to include the scouts in your corporate prayers today.

In the Series

We’re in week three of the four-week “miniseries on the mountain.” We saw in Week 1 what God is blessing, and we joined in acts of blessing and naming blessing during the following week. We got in touch with the reality that God’s blessing works through us like salt and light as we pursue God’s righteousness thoroughly, a righteousness we are told exceeds that of most religious leaders and that fulfills everything the law and the prophets have established. So this past week, we’ve sought to be such salt and light, and perhaps today we may hear or see some of the results of that either in the worship space or by other means.

In a very real way, the past two weeks have been building up or leading us to today and next week, just as this whole season has been building up to Transfiguration in three weeks.

This week and next, we get down to brass tacks. What are the commandments of Christ? What does the righteousness that fulfills law and prophets actually look like?

Jesus addresses this in the form of contrasting statements. “You have heard it said… But I tell you.” Or, it’s this, not that. One of the ways we seek to help underline the righteousness Jesus teaches is by the way we’ve laid out the Scripture reading for this week and next. We place the “typical interpretation” in the back of the worship space. We locate it “back there” to emphasize what Jesus himself emphasizes: That is past. We then place the words of the teaching of Jesus in the mouths of the whole congregation, the body of Christ. This, here, among us, this is what we’re called to be and do. We place explanatory words in the mouth of a reader from the Lord’s Table-- perhaps the pastor? The Lord’s Table is the heart of the celebration of “this holy mystery” of Holy Communion. So it is from there we listen for unpacking the mystery and meaning of Christ’s simple, concrete teaching on our lips.

Don’t explain this to the congregation during worship. Don’t take up sermon time for it. Just do it. Write a note on Monday or later or Sunday on your Facebook page, or send out an email, or include something about it in your weekly newsletter, after the fact. Trust the ritual action to do its work, and then, shortly thereafter, explain it.

Call to Righteousness
The teaching of Jesus we hear today addresses the ways we relate to one another both emotionally and physically, whether in situations provoking anger, in terms of how we manage our sexual desire, and within the bonds of marriage. Jesus is teaching us here what a righteousness that fulfills law and prophets looks like in each of these contexts.

Divorce and Remarriage
The way the institution of marriage is structured and the role of both men and women in Western cultures, at least, have changed dramatically from those of first-century Palestinian Judaism, so the churches in these cultures have taken a path that seeks to honor the heart of the teaching of Jesus about divorce and remarriage (we allow for them, and seek the fullest healing and justice for all parties involved), though not following the absolute prohibition on divorce and remarriage unless other sexual sin was involved “to the jot and tittle.”

We offer as a response to the preached word today an opportunity to commit or commit more deeply to the way of righteousness in our own relationships. For those of us who’ve spent any time on social media at all, we know how easy it is to move from anger to contempt, not just for others, but for ourselves. We have work to do here. We are surrounded and bombarded by messages all the time that hijack our sexual desires to associate them with products, or even (if you have to check your spam filter) just flat out invite us to have sex with others to whom we are not married, either online or in person. Per a BBC report in 2013, a reliable estimate is that 14 percent of searches are for pornographic materials and four percent of all websites are for pornography1. Faced with such constant bombardment, which – short of disconnecting from all media – may be nearly impossible to “cut off,” some us us, like former President Jimmy Carter, struggle with committing adultery in our hearts. And though divorce rates have generally been declining in the US since at least 20002, as of 2014, the percentage of divorces versus marriages per capita (rate per 1000) was still 46 percent. All sorts of personal failures in righteousness account for failures in marriage longevity. Even if we are married and haven’t divorced, our relationship within the marriage may not be all it could or should be. We have work to do.

A call to righteousness gives us an opportunity to recognize the work we have to do in any of these three areas, to name it, and to seek the prayers of others to help us do this better.

Consider in your planning team how best to organize this for worship today. You know your setting and who can be trusted to handle requests people may speak confidentially. If you do this, be sure that lines are not long. This probably means setting up multiple prayer stations, either with people who will pray on the spot, or places where prayer requests may be collected for later review by a trusted pastoral care team if it’s not possible to place enough trusted people at stations.

Plan for each person to receive thirty seconds to a minute of personal attention if you have stations. Keep in mind that not everyone will come forward for prayer. In a congregation of one hundred, maybe twenty will do so. Many others may simply keep a written record of their prayer request and handle it more privately. Still, if this whole action is to take five minutes, you should plan for at least four stations to cover twenty people in that time frame. Alternately, you may simply invite those who wish to come forward to pray to come to a prayer rail or pray at their seats.

However you handle this, frame this as good news. It truly is. We can live more righteous lives than we do. We can have better relationships. This is God’s desire for each and every one of us. And the church, Christ’s body, is here to help that happen for everyone. We’re not alone in this. We are accompanied by the Holy Spirit and a community of healing, strengthening love.

For the Week Ahead
Continue social media and other contacts with your folks throughout the week prompting them to take one step — just one step — in the direction of greater righteousness in these three areas in their lives. And encourage folks to share the step they’ve taken, and what has happened because they did. Gather these and include them (without names!) in displays for worship next Sunday as a means of encouraging the whole body to keep on.

This is also the recommended day for observing Scouting Sunday. The other possible date is during Lent. Two dates are chosen each year with the intention that one may not fall during Lent, depending on the calendar.

Aditional Resources

2014 Planning Helps for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Ireland, United Kingdom


2 Per CDC stats,

In This Series...

The Heavens are Opened — Planning Notes Come and See — Planning Notes Follow Me — Planning Notes #Blessed— Planning Notes Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding — Planning Notes And Now Your Reward — Planning Notes Shine! — Planning Notes